by Michael R. Allen
Inside of the Pevely Dairy plant’s office building at the southwest corner of Grand and Chouteau avenues is one of the city’s loveliest factory lobbies. The white tile walls, largely white tile floor and white ceiling make for a gleaming and modern space. Both milk itself and the advances in sanitary dairy plant technology — namely, enameled masonry wall surfaces — are echoed in the design of this space. Here Pevely Dairy maintained a retail operation and soda fountain. The lobby led to offices and other spaces in the building, including a room where a bit of local radio history happened.
From 1953 until 1979, Pevely sponsored one of St. Louis’ last live radio shows, the Pevely Playhouse Party. Charismatic bandleader Russ David hosted the program, which ran on KSD until 1969 and then on WEW for its last decade. During its run, the program broadcast live on weekdays from 12:15 until 2:00 p.m. David and his band, which played jazz and dance music, broadcast from an auditorium inside of the Pevely Dairy office building — a room whose walls were lined with white tile! (See photographs here and here.)
Today the Preservation Board will consider St. Louis University’s appeal of a denied demolition permit for the Pevely plant. The Cultural Resources Office recommends upholding denial of permits to demolish the main building and the smokestack, the two character-defining parts of the plant complex. While the Board deliberates, members will be applying the city’s demolition review ordinance. The Pevely Playhouse Party probably won’t come up in the discussion, nor should it. Still, the Pevely Playhouse Party shows that our buildings have many lives, and are significant to different people for different reasons.